Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar)
We headed to Sugarloaf on the 511 bus from Ipanema around 8am. I had to be back for work at 11am and Jeff and Colleen were arriving from DC at 10:30 so it needed to be a quick trip! We were concerned that we may not have enough time to enjoy the #2 attraction in Rio.
After searching for 30 minutes we finally found the right place to pick up the bus for the short ride to the other end of Copacabana beach (it was on the main road where we were staying, but we didn’t realize it!). Right off the bus, we noticed the lines were really long – uh oh – this was not good for our timeframe. I sent Wayne to the front of the line to check things out – glad we did as everyone in line was with a group from a cruise ship so off we went to the front of the line and quickly up the first cable car. We didn’t spend too much time at the first lookout figuring we could meander there on the return trip. The second cable car took a further 3 minutes and seemed very high, in fact I decided not to look down for fear of being freaked out! About a minute into the trip all was good and I was brave enough to check out the view from the cable car. Once at the top we understood why it’s one of Rio’s premier attractions, the views of Copacabana Beach, the city and Christ the Redeemer are fantastic. We walked around taking lots of pictures for 30 minutes before taking the ride back to the first level. The views here are not as nice as you can’t see the 4 kms of Copacabana Beach. The trip per person was $26 so it’s not cheap getting there either! On a side note, it’s better to visit Sugarloaf for sunset – this wasn’t possible with my work schedule but it gives us something to look forward to in the future!
We made it back to Ipanema at 12pm (a bit late for work!) on the 512 bus only after we exchanged buses due to the original one breaking down on the road. Jeff and Colleen had already flagged down Sandra, our host, and were waiting for us at the apartment.
Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor)
We headed to Christ the Redeemer with Jeff and Colleen on Friday afternoon. There are two options to get to the top, by train or by a small shuttle service. We chose the shuttle because it was leaving immediately and a few of us were still lightheaded from the hang gliding trip. The shuttle takes about 15 minutes to the ticket office for Christ the Redeemer where you are transferred to another shuttle for the ride to the top, again about 15 minutes. It’s very commercial at the top with escalators and elevators moving many tourists. There wasn’t much room around Christ the Redeemer because everyone wants to stand in front of it with their arms spread for pictures – it’s a zoo!
Christ the Redeemer is 99 feet tall, located at the peak of Corcovado mountain in Tijuca National forest. The views of the city are beautiful here, but we still preferred the ones from Sugarloaf. We stayed for the sunset and drank a beer on the patio overlooking Corcovado. It was a perfect way to end our day in Rio with our friends!
Rio Hang Gliding
I had no idea that people were hang gliding in Rio, but Jeff enlightened us and soon we were off to Sao Conrado beach to check it out for ourselves. We checked with a few companies online before heading to the beach so we had an approximate price for the flight – roughly $125 USD. We heard it was better to just show up and get a “flight lesson” without making a reservation because it might be cheaper. It didn’t turn out that way and we ended up paying $140 USD, even after quite a bit of negotiating just to get that price! We thought since there were 4 of us we could get a package deal, no such luck! After committing to do the trip with 4 different guides, we had to register with the local agency for the lesson ($20 USD, but was included in our price), then we loaded up into cars for the drive to the highest point in Tijuca National Park. I wasn’t feeling nervous yet, but I don’t tend to freak out until the last second on adrenaline trips like this! Normally, Wayne has the sweaty palms and I’m calm, then when it actually happens, it’s the total reverse! After exiting the car, we practiced running with our guides to make sure we were in sync which is very important for takeoff! All was good, so we put on our safety equipment and prepared for the jump! My hands were getting sweaty by this point and luckily Jeff was first so I could see what I was getting into. Fortunately I didn’t have much time to think about it as I was running down and off the end of the ramp for takeoff next, totally insane! The flight was incredible – it’s so quiet and peaceful and you feel like you can see and fly forever. Wayne took off after me and I watched as he landed on the beach. All I could think was, “why am I still flying and he’s already on the ground, something much be wrong with my instructor and he doesn’t know how to land”. I was sure of it! Another 5 minutes passed and we started our descent, after some 20 minutes of flying when a normal flight is around 11 minutes. I was feeling a bit motion sick and was very happy to have both feet on the ground. Totally an amazing experience and wouldn’t hesitate in doing it again!
Rocinho Favela Tour
Of course this was Wayne’s idea – I don’t have much interest in walking around inside Brazils biggest slum for 4 hours gawking at where people live! We were afraid to do the tour on our own because the favelas in Rio are known for being very dangerous places where one turn could be tragic. There are drug lords that run the favelas and it’s not safe for competing favela residents to enter, but we heard that tourists were safe.
Our tour stated on Ipanema beach where we were told to look for a short, stocky white man with tattoos. He told us to bring a good pair of shoes, a camera and extra money. We joked that he was setting us up to be robbed immediately since we had our best things with us! Our guide, Zezinho was exactly as he described, but I’d go for “large” instead of stocky and “with tattoos” is an understatement because he was covered from head to toe! Zezinho grew up in the Rocinho favela and seemed to know everyone. For some strange reason he would “meow” at most people – this was pretty annoying after 4 hours! He had very interesting stories about the formation and the changes in the favela over the years, how they have their own form of justice, and that they do not like the police presence.
The favelas were self-formed as a place for lower class people to live closer to the cities. The drug gangs came in and there was a mutual agreement between the favela residents and the gangs, who happened to be the main financiers of building and updating the infrastructure, including streets, sewage systems, electricity, and water supplies. They would sell cocaine and weed only as anything else ended up ruining community life by bringing more violence and hurting the favela. The weed was typically for the residents of the favela and the cocaine was for the wealthy neighbors who would venture to the edge of the favela to purchase it. The gangs protected the surrounding areas because they knew it was necessary for their business. It was very common to see drugs openly being dealt on the streets and alleys, and to see many people walking around with machine guns. Our guide was actually a drug dealer 30 years ago, although he did make it clear that he never carried a gun because he didn’t want to have to use it! He wasn’t proud of it, but back then felt he had no other options. Zezinho gave us the 5 rules of the favela: 1. No killing 2. No stealing 3. No raping 4. No child abuse 5. These were used for favela justice, if you were caught breaking one of these rules you could expect to pay the consequences. One story he told about a girl being raped was particularly interesting. They found the rapist and the mother of the victim didn’t want to turn him over to the police, that was far too lenient. She wanted “favela justice”. The members of the community damaged him as poorly as the victim had been treated and left him on the edge of the favela for the police. He spent the next few years in hospital and jail, but never returned to Rocinho. For this reason there is not much crime in these areas.
About 3 years ago in an attempt to clean up the city (probably in preparation for the World Cup and the Olympics), a new police unit now patrols in Rochinho, and other favelas. Since their arrival, they have booted out the drug gangs which is now causing an increase in crime in the surrounding neighborhoods. Unfortunately for the people of Rochinho the property values are going up and pushing them out of their neighborhood. Along with the beautification of Rio, they have built libraries and public housing, but they still have not fixed the open sewage that runs through parts of the favela and overflows during heavy rains. Tuberculosis and dengue fever are still rampant because people are living so close together, and the electrical system is a nightmare – Zezinho said people are very respectful of the wires because they know how difficult it is to repair.
We felt very safe on our walking tour and felt like we could have gone to this area alone; however, we would not have had the local perspective that we enjoyed so much (minus all the meowing!!). Later that evening, Wayne and Jeff ventured into Vidigal favela, at the end of Leblon beach, for a few late night drinks – again they felt very safe. MEOW!
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico)
We needed a relaxing day in Rio so we headed to the Botanical Gardens near the apartment we were staying at. We were finally able to see some Brazilian wildlife. Amongst toucans, parrots, and many other birds there were these very small monkeys called Marmosets and I thought they looked really freaky! Almost like Squirrels with monkey faces, something is not right about that! We wondered around the beautiful gardens for a couple of hours and at $3USD per person it was great value. After leaving the gardens we headed to the Chinese Lookout in Tijuca National Park, a spectacular lookout point and totally free of charge. Given the fact that we had no clue where we were walking ended up with 13 miles for the day, totally worth it!
February 9th – February 16th 2013
February 22nd – February 27th 2013